Germany’s ruling coalition in ‘permanent crisis mode’ over far-right spy row

Hans-Georg MaassenGermany’s fragile ruling coalition continues to face strong criticism two days after removing the country’s domestic intelligence chief over concerns that he may harbor far-right sympathies. Hans-Georg Maassen, a career civil servant, led Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) from August 2012 until his removal on Thursday of this week. His hasty removal from the BfV was caused by the so-called Chemnitz protests, a series of prolonged anti-immigrant rallies, pogroms and riots that shook the east German city of Chemnitz in the last week of August of this year. They were prompted by news of the death of a German man, reportedly during a fight with two Kurdish immigrants. Videos of the protests surfaced on social media, showing participants throwing Nazi salutes, singing Nazi-era German songs and chasing people perceived to be immigrants in the streets of Chemnitz.

The controversy deepened when Maassen appeared to dispute the authenticity of the videos in an interview. The BfV director warned that the videos may have been faked as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at stirring racial tensions in Germany. The spy chief’s motives were questioned, however, when several investigative reporters, among them a team from the German public broadcaster association ARD, insisted that the videos were genuine and were posted online by people with real —not fake— accounts. Eventually Maassen became the focus of the story, as accusations surfaced that he may have leaked BfV documents to far-right activists and that he may even have coached them on how to evade government surveillance. The claims reignited widespread fears that members of Germany’s security and intelligence agencies may harbor sympathies for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a coalition of Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant and neo-Nazi groups that has gained prominence since its establishment in 2013. Currently, the AfD is Germany’s third-largest party, having received nearly 13% of the vote in the 2017 federal elections. The AfD is also the country’s main opposition party in the Bundestag, since the two leading parties, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the liberal Social Democratic Party (SPD), are members of the governing coalition.

Following nearly two weeks of controversy, the German Chancellery announced on Thursday that Maassen would be removed from head of the BfV and would serve instead as second in command in the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The decision was seen as a difficult compromise between the three members of the governing coalition —the liberals of the SPD, who wanted Maassen fired, and the conservatives of the CSU and its Bavarian wing, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, who are in favor of tighter immigration policies. But the controversy surrounding Maassen continues in light of news that the former spy chief will see his income rise in his new post. In a report from Berlin, the Reuters news agency described Maassen’s reassignment as “a clumsy compromise” that highlighted the “dysfunctional relationship” of the three “loveless partners” in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fragile governing coalition. One critic, SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil, told the news agency that the Maassen controversy had caused the government to “slide into a permanent crisis mode”. Meanwhile the name of Maassen’s replacement at the helm of the BfV has not yet been announced.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 September 2018 | Permalink

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Authorities in Eastern Europe warn about rise of heavily armed paramilitary groups

Night Wolves SlovakiaSecurity agencies in Eastern Europe have voiced concern about the rise of far-right paramilitary groups whose members have access to heavy weaponry, including in some cases armored vehicles and tanks. The most recent warning came on Sunday, when the Czech daily newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes published excerpts of a leaked security report on the subject. The report was authored by analysts in the Security Information Service (BIS), the country’s primary domestic intelligence agency. It detailed the recent activities of a group calling itself the National Home Guard, a far-right, anti-immigrant militia that some experts say consists of around 2,000 members throughout the Czech Republic. Although this is officially denied, the group is believed to be the armed wing of National Democracy, a far-right nationalist political party that received 36,000 votes in the 2017 legislative election.

The BIS report states that the National Home Guard has 90 branches across the nation and is now in possession of significant quantities of weapons, some of which have been smuggled into the Czech Republic from Libya. Many of the organization’s largest branches, in the cities of Prague, Ostrava, and elsewhere, organize regular weapons training sessions in secret locations. In some smaller cities around the country, where police presence is limited, National Home Guard is now holding regular armed patrols, in which immigrants —especially those from predominantly Muslim countries— are targeted. Additionally, the group has recently started to recruit heavily from the ranks of the police and the Czech Armed Forces, according to the BIS report.

The Mlada Fronta Dnes revelation comes only a month after a report by the BBC said that two far-right militias in Slovakia had begun training at a paramilitary base that contains armored personnel carriers and tanks. The base belongs to the Night Wolves, a biker gang that is known for its anti-immigrant and anti-European Union stance. Recently, however, the Night Wolves have been training in paramilitary tactics in coordination with two other groups, the Slovak Levies and NV Europe, said the BBC. Located in the village of Dolna Krupa, 45 miles north of the Slovakian capital Bratislava, the base contains several tanks and other armored vehicles. The Night Wolves claim that the facility hosts a World War II museum, which explains the presence of the military vehicles. But the BBC said that the group is suspected of using the base to train pro-Russia Ukrainian separatists and other Eastern European paramilitary groups. The BIS report states that far-right paramilitary groups in Czech and Slovakia —which until 1993 were regions of unified Czechoslovakia— maintain regular contact with each other.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 September 2018 | Permalink | Research credit: J.R.
IntelNews thanks J.J. for helping to ensure the factual accuracy of this report

 

 

German far-right group is arming itself, poses serious threat, report warns

ReichsbuergerAdherents of a bizarre far-right movement in Germany, who claim to be citizens of Prussia, are arming themselves and pose a growing security threat, says a new report by the country’s domestic spy service. The members of the movement call themselves Reichsbuerger (“citizens of the Reich”) and reject the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany. Instead of the modern-day German state, which emerged in 1990 from the union of East and West Germany, Reichsbuergers swear allegiance to the Deutsches Reich (German Reich), the Nazi German state that existed between 1933 and 1945. They also claim that the Deutsches Reich, which they occasionally refer to as Prussia, continues to exist in its pre-1945 state and is still governed by a provisional government in exile.

In some cases, Reichsbuerger adherents have contacted foreign embassies in Berlin and asked to be recognized as citizens of the Third Reich, but without success. In addition, some Reichsbuerger associations issue Deutsches Reich identification cards and Deutsches Reich car license plates. But these are dismissed as “fantastical” by German authorities, who have historically refused to take Reichsbuerger adherents seriously. But now the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s main domestic security agency, has said that the Reichsbuerger movement is growing and needs to be viewed as a potential security threat. According to the BfV’s annual report, which was published on Tuesday, the Reichsbuerger movement has grown by more than 65 percent since 2016 and currently consists of approximately 20,000 committed members.

In its report, the BfV notes that the numerical growth of Reichsbuerger adherents may be partly attributed to the heightened attention that German authorities have been paying to far-right organizations in recent years. The agency also states that only about five percent of Reichsbuergers may be described as violent or potentially violent extremists. However, violent Reichsbuergers have risen from 500 in 2016 to 900 in 2017, an 80% increase in a year, according to the report. Moreover, says the BfV, many core members of the Reichsbuerger movement maintain close contacts with German far-right criminal networks, whose members include current and former supporters of the National Socialist Underground (NSU). Earlier this month, several NSU members were found guilty of having participated in 10 politically motivated killings of immigrants between 2000 and 2007. The BfV report states that Reichsbuergers increasingly view the NSU’s violent acts as examples to follow, and that they are systematically attempting –and usually succeeding– to obtain gun licenses. In a report published earlier this year, the BfV had warned that the Reichsbuerger movement was trying to build an army.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 July 2018 | Permalink

Man who attended Charlottesville far-right rally tried to derail passenger train

Amtrak trainA man who attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, with members of a neo-Nazi organization, has been charged with terrorism offences after he tried to derail a passenger train. Taylor M. Wilson, of St. Charles, Missouri, was arrested by federal law enforcement officials on October 22, after he attempted to sabotage a passenger train with 175 people aboard in rural Nebraska. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wilson entered the train’s engine room and pulled the emergency brakes, thus bringing the train to a sudden halt. He was eventually subdued by a train conductor and other railway employees, who successfully prevented him from reaching for a loaded revolver that he had with him. Following his arrest, police found in his backpack a box of ammunition, a knife, a hammer, and a full-face respirator mask with a filter.

Now the FBI says that Wilson boarded the train intent on carrying out a terrorist assault, and that he pulled the train’s breaks “with intent to harm those aboard”. In court documents that were unsealed last week, FBI agents state that a search of Wilson’s property in Missouri uncovered a large weapons cache consisting of fifteen firearms, some of which were automatic. Nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition were also confiscated from Wilson’s house, where federal officers also found literature published by American white supremacist organizations like the National Socialist Movement. According to the indictment, some of the weapons and white nationalist literature had been hidden inside a concealed compartment located behind a refrigerator unit.

It appears that Wilson obtained most of his firearms legally and that he had been issued a concealed carry permit. However, the FBI claims that Wilson’s firearms “have been used for, or obtained in anticipation of engaging in, or planning to engage in, criminal offenses against the United States”. In addition to this claim, the FBI indictment states that Wilson traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, in August of last year to attend the “Unite the Right” rally, which was organized by various white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-Nazi and militia groups. The FBI says that it has statements from Wilson’s associates and at least one family member, who claim that the accused traveled to Charlottesville as part of a contingent of a neo-Nazi group.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 January 2018 | Permalink

Canadian intelligence monitoring far-right activities after Charlottesville

Unite the Right rallyCanadian spy organizations are working with domestic and international agencies in response to reports that several Canadian far-right activists attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. The rally drew the attention of the world’s media after violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters left a woman dead. Two Virginia State Police officers were also killed when a helicopter used in crowd control in Charlottesville crashed near the site of the demonstrations. The rally, which took place on August 11 and 12, drew members of various white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate groups. There were also heavily armed members of a self-styled militia at Emancipation Park, where a soon-to-be-removed statue of the late Confederate General Robert E. Lee became the focal point of the far-right demonstrators.

Canadian news watchers were surprised to find out that several Canadian citizens traveled to the United States to participate in the “Unite the Right” rally. At least two were identified on social media after appearing in a Vice News documentary about the rally. One Canadian participant is believed to be an activist with Le Meute (The Wolf Pack), a far-right group that appeared in Quebec in 2015 and today boasts 43,000 registered members. The stated position of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s primary national intelligence agency, is that far-right extremism is not a major problem in Canada. In 2014, the agency said that rightwing extremism was not “as significant a problem in Canada in recent years”. The statement added that Canadians who held far-right extremist views “have tended to be isolated and ineffective figures”.

Speaking to the Canadian online newspaper The National Observer, the CSIS declined to comment specifically about the events in Charlottesville. It also did not respond to a question about whether it monitors the international travels of Canadian far-right activists. A CSIS spokeswoman, Tahera Mufti, told the newspaper that the agency was unable to discuss details about its ongoing investigations into Charlottesville “due to national security reasons”. But she added that CSIS was working “with its Canadian and international partners” to combat the activities of “those who support right-wing extremism”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 August 2017 | Permalink

Members of far-right group arrested in Kansas face WMD terrorism charges

Federal arrestsFederal authorities in the United States have charged three men with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction with the intention of blowing up an apartment complex in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Kansas. The men, Patrick Eugene Stein, Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, who called themselves ‘the Crusaders’, allegedly wanted to spark a religious war between Christians and Muslims in the United States. They were arrested last week in simultaneous raids conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after they obtained guns and chemicals for making bombs. According to the US Department of Justice, the terrorism suspects planned to build a device similar to the ammonium nitrate-based bomb used by Timothy McVeigh in 1995 to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Recordings of telephone conversations between members of the ‘Crusaders’ reveal their desire to use the attack to entice militia groups across America to take up arms against the government. They also expressed a desire to “wake people up” and turn Americans against Islam and Muslims. It appears that the three men began planning their attack in early 2016. By early summer, they had selected as their primary target an apartment complex housing many Muslim immigrants from Somalia, located in Garden City, Kansas. According to court documents, the group planned to detonate explosives hidden inside cars parked across from the two main entrances to the apartment building. Knowing that one of the apartments is used as a makeshift mosque by the residents of the complex, the ‘Crusaders’ allegedly planned to detonate the bombs during the traditional Muslim prayer time on a Friday. The goal, according to the indictment, was to kill as many people as possible.

But the FBI had been monitoring the group after receiving a tip-off by a man who said he had attended the ‘Crusaders’ planning meetings and was concerned about their violent intentions. The FBI promptly put together a sting operation, in which FBI agents posing as far-right militants offered to sell the group guns. Soon afterwards, the girlfriend of Curtis Allen, one of the ‘Crusaders’, contacted the authorities saying her boyfriend had physically abused her. She then showed police officers a room in her house where Allen had reportedly stored weapons and chemicals for manufacturing explosives. Realizing that the militant group was close to launching a strike, the FBI decided to move in and arrest its members last week. All of them are currently being held without bail and face life in prison if convicted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 October 2016 | Permalink

Comment: Far-right militancy just as dangerous as Islamist extremism

Dylann RoofMany in the United States associate terrorism with contemporary versions of militant Islam. The data, however, tells a different story: since 2002, domestic extremists who hold far-right ideologies have struck more often and have killed more people than Islamic-inspired radicals. This blog has argued in the past that American counterterrorism policy creates a security vacuum by over-concentrating on Islamic-inspired radicals and largely ignoring domestic terrorist groups. In an insightful article published earlier this year in Newsweek magazine, Kurt Eichenwald, a 20-year veteran of investigative reporting and author of The Informant, argues that far-right radicalism is a bigger threat to American security than Islamic militancy, including the Islamic State.

Eichenwald cites a report by Duke University’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, which was based on surveys from 382 law enforcement groups across the US. The report, published in June of last year, argues that American “law enforcement agencies […] consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence” they face. He also points to increasing incidents of surveillance of Muslim schools, religious and community centers in nearly a dozen states by members of far-right militia groups for what informants describe as “operational purposes”.

American counterterrorism specialists understand that the term “far-right militancy” encompasses thousands of groups of various sizes and capabilities, which are both wildly diverse and constantly evolving, says Eichenwald. Most experts separate the members of these groups into three distinct categories, namely violent racists, anti-federalist (or anti-government) radicals, and religious fundamentalists. These factions, which include dozens of sub-factions, do not usually work together and even have adversarial relations with each other. Violent racists operate as members of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan in mostly rural and semi-urban settings. In urban environments, neo-Nazi and skinhead groups are more prevalent than the KKK. Anti-government radicals join armed militias that espouse various ideologies representing the so-called “sovereign citizens” worldview —namely the belief that federal, state or local laws are tyrannical and do not apply to them. The final category, religious fundamentalists, are members of various Christian identity groups that prioritize the Bible over the US Constitution and support the violent imposition of Christian religious codes on social life.

The list of these groups is growing, says Eichenwald, largely in reaction to economic pressures caused by the deep recession of 2007. The ascendency of Barack Obama to the US presidency has also radicalized the racist-oriented far right, he says, which overlaps to some extent with the militia movement. In 2008 there were 42 organized militia groups operating in the US. Today there are 276, he says, referring to information provided by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center. There is no doubt that Islamic fundamentalism poses clear dangers to US security. But, as Eichenwald argues, this country has been extremely lucky to have avoided a repeat of the 1995 attack on the Oklahoma Federal Building, which was carried out by a white supremacist guided by militant anti-government ideas. A repeat of such a massacre in recent years has not been due to lack of trying, says Eichenwald, and ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 October 2016 | Permalink